Like Tobe Hooper and George Romero, David Cronenberg sprang into public consciousness with a series of low-budget horror films that shocked and surprised audiences for their sheer audacity and intelligence. Unlike the former two filmmakers, Cronenberg has been able to avoid being pigeonholed into a single restrictive genre category. His works, which consistently explore the same themes, have the mark of a true auteur in the strictest sense of the word. Cronenberg's films have the unnerving ability to delve into society's collective unconscious and dredge up all of the perverse, suppressed desires of modern life. His world features grotesque deformities, hallucinatory couplings, and carnality unhinged from its corporeal moorings.
Born on March 15, 1943, in Toronto, Canada, Cronenberg was the son of a freelance journalist and a piano teacher. He was raised in a nurturing middle class family and wrote constantly as a child, showing a strong interest in science, particularly in botany and lepidopterology (the study of moths). In 1963, he entered the University of Toronto as an Honors Science student, though he quickly grew disenchanted and within a year switched to the Honors English Language and Literature program. During this time, Cronenberg was profoundly impressed by Winter Kept Us Warm (1966) by classmate David Secter. Though previously not especially interested in film, this student work piqued his interest, and soon he was hanging out at film camera rental houses where he taught himself the ins and outs of filmmaking. He made two no-budget 16mm films (Transfer and From the Drain), and -- inspired by the underground film scene in New York -- he founded the Toronto Film Co-op with Iain Ewing and Ivan Reitman. After a year traveling in Europe, Cronenberg returned to Canada and graduated at the top of his class in 1967.
After making the avant-garde sci-fi flick Stereo (1969), Cronenberg became one of the first recipients of CFDC (Canadian Film Development Corporation) funding for his follow-up, Crimes of the Future (also 1969), a dark, surreal experimental exploration of sexuality. After these two films, Cronenberg realized that working in a strictly experimental venue was ultimately a dead end -- he wanted to broaden his audience.
With Reitman as the producer, Cronenberg made his feature debut with the low-budget horror flick Shivers (1975). Recalling Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Shivers gleefully presents the audience with phallus-like parasites that turn an apartment full of well-to-do professionals into a throng of sex-mad maniacs. Shivers sharply divided critics. Cronenberg made two more films with direct or indirect funding from the CFDC -- Rabid (1977) and The Brood (1979). Both of these films, along with Shivers, form a rough trilogy of sorts about physical evolutions of the body bringing civilization to its knees. In Rabid, featuring Ivory Pure model-turned-porn star Marilyn Chambers as Typhoid Mary, a virulent strain of rabies that reduces victims to foaming murderous animals devastates the city of Montreal. In The Brood, a mother manifests her angers as bloodthirsty, hideously misshapen children.
Cronenberg's breakthrough film was his 1981 box office hit Scanners. Featuring an overtly sci-fi story line, a sinister performance by Michael Ironside, and an infamous exploding head scene, the film established Cronenberg's name beyond the exploitation house and drive-in audiences. Two years later, Cronenberg followed this up with his masterful Videodrome. Told in a Burroughs-esque fractured stream of consciousness, the film concerns Renn, a sleazy cable TV operator, who discovers that the mysterious snuff cable he happened upon gives the viewers brain tumors. Humans and media hardware merge in unexpected, strangely sexual ways: video tapes throb like organs, and a tape is slotted into a vagina like gash in a